How to Recognize a Toxic Friend

Toxic friends come in all shapes and sizes; what is the hardest thing about a toxic friendship is how it creeps up on you unawares. Although you may be laboring under incredible negativity and feeling awful around your friend, it can take a while to fully understand that this negativity is being caused by your friendship. Knowing the signs of a toxic friendship will help you to either avoid remaining in such a friendship, or perhaps even developing one in the first place.


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    Pay attention when your friend puts you down. Friends are friends because they support us. They don't necessarily have to agree with us, or even share our tastes, but they do tend to be relationships of mutual respect, joy in one another's company, and acceptance of difference of both attitude and actions. If your friend is constantly saying things that demean you, that make you feel small or unhappy, or if your friend makes you feel unworthy and pitied, then you have lost a friend and gained a critic. If this happens on a regular basis, you're with a toxic friend.
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    Be wary of a friend who gossips about you. Any friend who tells tales on a friend is not a friend. Instead, being with you simply offers this person an opportunity to glean details for spreading around to others. If you find out that this is happening, you're with a toxic friend. Be careful about jumping to assumptions, however. If your friend slips up once, this may just be a situation of not handling things properly and they might seek your forgiveness. If it happens regularly, however, the pattern should serve to warn you.
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    Consider mockery carefully. Mockery can commence in a friendship as mere, gentle ribbing of one's faults by way of endearment or genuine affection. If it becomes the normal way of relating, however, especially in front of other people, then you have a recipe for a toxic friendship. After a time, it can be too easy for such a friend to use this a defense mechanism to ward off criticism of themselves and to offload that onto you. In this case, you become the target that your friend uses to outplay the potential for attack from others against them.
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    Consider your feelings about your friend and the time spent together. Ask yourself these questions:
    • Is this something that your friend has just started to do, or has it been going on for a long time?
    • Do you feel unhappy after spending time with this friend? Does spending time with your friend make you feel defensive or upset?
    • Do you spend time justifying your own behavior around your friend instead of it feeling "natural" to be together?
    • Are you happy with this friend?
    • Do you feel belittled, attacked or used?
    • Does the friendship feel unbalanced and like plain hard work?
    • Do you feel at fault for things that happen to your friend?
    • Has your friend betrayed your confidences?
    • Does it feel like competition rather than a balanced and caring friendship?
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    Recognize what constitutes a healthy friendship. It is important to look at things in the positive light as well as the negative situation, to help you balance your feelings and the interpretation of the situation. A good, healthy friendship involves feeling like you are supporting one another, acting as a sounding board for each other. Good friends don't compete negatively; if there is competition, it is openly acknowledged and each other's achievements are lauded and appreciated equally.
    • Good friends care for one another, and keep secrets between each other. Good friends spend time helping each other overcome adversity rather than creating it and maintaining it. Good friendships are relationships that make both people feel good about themselves and feel natural.
      • Even though a friendship needs to be worked on as much as any relationship, a good friendship doesn't feel like work; it feels like building foundations, and growing a garden; pleasant, worthwhile, rewarding, and filled with give-and-take in equal measure.
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    Act on your feelings and analysis of the situation. If you recognize the signs of a toxic friendship, get yourself out of it and move on. It is not worth continuing at the expense of your health, self-esteem, and happiness.


  • Read an excerpt from the well-known book by Dr Jan Yager, When Friendship Hurts: How to Deal With Friends Who Betray, Abandon, or Wound You: 6 Types of Toxic Friends for information on toxic "types" to see if you identify with any, or several, of these types in your friendship of concern:

    • The promise-breaker
    • The double-crosser
    • The self-absorbed
    • The disclosure
    • The competitor
    • The fault-finder
    • The "I can't take no for an answer" friend
    • The plan-canceler (the friend who always finds an excuse to cancel plans to hang out)
    • Respect your status
    • Crossing Boundaries

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Categories: Handling Friendship Problems